Mike Kueber's Blog

February 20, 2015

Evaluating art

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment — Mike Kueber @ 4:59 pm
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When I was a kid, George C. Scott refused to accept an Oscar for his role in Patton. Marlon Brando did something similar a couple of years later for his role in The Godfather. Both men refused to treat acting like a sporting contest, with winners and losers.

Today I was reminded of that issue when I read an article in the NY Times regarding the prospects of American Sniper winning the best-picture Oscar.  According to the article, a huge plurality of Americans (42%) think the movie should be awarded the Oscar, with the next highest movie at only 12%. This dominance of American Sniper was also reflected at the box office, where it had grossed more than the combined gross of the other seven nominated film. Despite this support, the article pointed out that sophisticated betting prognosticators give American Sniper less than a 1% chance of winning the best-picture Oscar.

So, how can the American people evaluate a movie so dramatically different than those in the movie industry, i.e., the Oscar voters?

The same sort of issue arose last week when Kanye West voiced his disappointment that the best-album Grammy went to Beck instead of Kanye’s favorite, Beyoncé. According to West, “Beck needs to respect artistry and he should’ve given his award to Beyoncé.”

When I first heard Kanye’s comment, I thought that it was silly to suggest that one person’s music is objectively better than someone else’s, especially when you are dealing with different genres. But that is essentially what an Academy Award does.

Art is defined as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” But does one person’s perception of beauty or emotion power mean more than another’s?

Americans, it seems, are inclined to grant outsize authority to Academy or Grammy voters, with their elitism/expert background seen as a good thing. That is probably why the People’s Choice awards, based on mass popularity, have never caught on.

But one of the greatest singers of all-time, Elvis Presley, never won a major Grammy, which is no doubt a travesty, and the appropriate response is to refer to the title of Elvis’s 1959 album, “50,000,000 Elvis fans can’t be wrong.”

November 11, 2014

Editing the Wikipedia entry for Californication (TV series)

Filed under: Entertainment,Media — Mike Kueber @ 6:54 pm
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The Wikipedia entry for Californication includes a summary for each season, but for some reason my favorite season, the penultimate Season 6, contains an exceptionally brief, superficial summary:

  • Season 6 started on January 13, 2013, and features a storyline revolving around Hank penning a musical with a “coked-up rock star” Atticus Fetch, portrayed by Tim Minchin. Maggie Grace portrays Faith, a groupie and a muse to the stars. The season also features Marilyn Manson appearing as himself, a friend of the rockstar Atticus Fetch.

To make matters worse, the entry also shortchanges my favorite girlfriend Faith in its description of the recurring characters:

  • Faith (Maggie Grace) is a groupie and a recovering addict. She meets Hank in rehab and later they start a short relationship. (Season 6)

Because Wikipedia depends on users to improve its product, I decided to improve the Californication entry by editing the Season 6 summary and the Faith description. After re-viewing the 12-episode season, I came up with the following edits:

  • Season 6 started on January 13, 2013. Its storyline revolves around Hank’s relationship with Faith (played by Maggie Grace), whom he meets in a rehab facility. Hank reluctantly agrees to go to rehab, not because of a drug dependency, but rather because of depression over his role in ex-girlfriend Carrie’s suicide at the end of Season 5. Faith is a famous rock-star groupie/muse who is in rehab because of the recent death of her rock star, and ultimately she becomes Hank’s muse. Faith and Hank seem to be made for each other, but in the end Hank is too weak to move on from Karen even though it appears that that relationship has run its course.
  • Faith (Maggie Grace) is a famous rock-star groupie/muse who makes a serious emotional connection with Hank and seems to be the only woman in Hank’s life with the potential to replace Karen in his heart.

For now, the edits have been published by Wikipedia, and I wonder if the previous writers are going to take umbrage at my take on Season 6 and try to switch it back.

I was so taken with Faith (played by Maggie Grace) that I was certain that she would return on the series-ending Season Seven and win Hank back. But she didn’t. And that is why my blog posting on the series ended with:

  • “After the series concluded, Duchovny was asked how Hank Moody evolved over the seven seasons, and he said Hank had remained essentially the same. What an admission! Although I agree with that admission, it is what ultimately disappointed me about the ending. Instead of continuing his struggle with Karen, Hank should have taken up with the younger version of Karen who he hooked up with in Season Six – Faith, played by Maggie Grace. Even Karen admitted to being jealous of Faith because she saw in Faith’s face the same look of love that had been in Karen’s face many years earlier. It’s too bad that Hank was too weak to move on from a relationship that had run its course. But that’s the problem with romantics – they live in the past instead of the present.”

Incidentally, the following is my full-length summary of Season 6:

  • Season Six begins with Hank waking up in the hospital two days after surviving Carrie’s murder-suicide attempt, but Carrie was not so lucky. When Hank visits Carrie on life-support, her friend rips him a new one – “I just wish you had let her down a little easier, a little sooner.” Hank is devastated by the accurate accusation and goes on a binge that results in an intervention. When Hank tells Karen that he feels so guilty about breaking Carrie’s heart that he might never be able to get back to feeling good about life with Karen, Karen tells him that he will get it back if he tries – “In the meantime, I’ll just dream for the both of us, I guess.” Because of Karen’s encouragement, Hank voluntarily commits himself to a rehab facility. Rehab proves to be a total waste for Hank, but he meets a rock-star groupie/muse Faith and quickly makes a Karen-like connection with her. Hank and Faith take a hiatus from the rehab facility to attend her rock star’s funeral, and then relapse together at a post-funeral party. Hank and Faith leave the rehab facility and go their separate ways, but soon thereafter reconnect when Hank and Charlie get her to help Charlie find some drugs and a special guitar for his client rock-star Atticus Fetch. Hank and Faith have a heart-to-heart conversation, and she tells him that he has a special gift as a self-described under-achiever and that she is willing to become his muse – i.e., a woman who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist. Hank takes a job to help Atticus write a rock opera based on Hank’s book. Atticus asks Faith to be his muse, but she declines because she doesn’t feel a connection to him and his work. Atticus gets pissed at Faith, and Hank defends her. A grateful Faith thanks Hank by agreeing to be his muse. Hank easily finishes his part of the rock opera, but Atticus rejects it as too dark. Faith reads the opera draft and tells Hank that the problem isn’t that the opera is dark, it is that it is cynical and has no heart; at its core, it needs to be boy-meets-girl. Newly-inspired, Hank hammers out a wonderful revised draft for the opera. Atticus throws a party to celebrate the revised draft, and Karen sees Faith for the first time. Hank tells Karen that Faith is “a friend; a lovely young woman who has helped guide me creatively.” Faith and Karen have a heart-to-heart, and Karen warns her that, despite Hank’s potential, “it’s hard to have a long-term relationship with potential.” Karen sees Hank kissing Faith, so she hooks up with movie star, Eddie Nero. Hank punches Nero in the nose. Hank has a heart-to-heart with Karen. He asks her why she came to the party. She tells him, “You know why? Because there’s always this voice in the back of my head that says maybe this time it will be different. Maybe the stars will align and there will be this magic moment between us where everything will be OK again. But there’s always something or someone in the way…. It’s just when I see someone look at you like I used to look at you, I fucking hate that. It makes me sick to my stomach. And the worst part is that I turned into you tonight, and I don’t want to be that person.” Hank and Faith visit her parents, who are stunningly dysfunctional, emotionally-unavailable people. Atticus goes off the tour and checks into rehab, so Charlie asks Hank and Faith to get him back on drugs and on the tour. Atticus asks Hank and Faith to join him on the tour so they can finish writing the opera. As Becca goes east to college, Karen wonders to Hank whether Becca was the only thing that had kept them together so long. Hank asks Karen whether he should go on the tour, and she tells him to do what he wants because she had nothing to offer him now. Faith and Hank leave on a tour bus, and while they are napping, Hank cries out Karen’s name. Faith tells him, “You have to go, don’t you?” “Yeah, I do. I’m sorry, I do.” “I could love you. I’m not saying that I do; I’m saying I could…. You understand me better than any guy I’ve ever met. And you get me. And that has been the nicest feeling…. The great thing about never really being together? You never have to break up.” Hanks gets off the bus and catches a ride back to LA. Hank knocks on Karen’s door and the screen goes black.


February 19, 2014

50,000 watts of common thread

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment — Mike Kueber @ 11:55 am
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I recently bought Rosanne Cash’s wonderful new album, The River and the Thread.  As I was listening to one of the catchiest tunes, I heard her sing, “50,000 watts of common thread.”  What an interesting insight!  I assumed she was referring to the bond created by millions of listeners hearing country music or talk radio on one of America’s legendary 50,000-watt radio stations.

I’ve given some thought lately to the things that bind America together.  Of course, the most important ties are our nation’s history of achievement and our shared values.  But some of those shared values seem to be getting diluted, and I wonder if TV is partially responsible.  Because of cable TV, Americans no longer watch the same TV shows.  Further, the shows that are on TV are designed to attract narrow niches instead of the broad mainstream.

Other ties, however, remain strong, and an example of that is the English language.  Although multiple languages are beneficial to society, it is also great to have a single language that we all share (albeit with region-influenced dialects).  I think it is especially neat when a person of color speaks American without any trace of being an immigrant.  That reflects a country that is the ultimate melting pot.

Because I’m not good at hearing lyrics, I eventually read the Cash album jacket to learn a bit more about what Rosanne was writing.  Boy, was I surprised to learn the song is titled, “50,000 watts of Common Prayer.”  Oh, well, it was food for thought.

November 18, 2013

Seven facts about me

Filed under: Entertainment,History,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 11:04 pm

There is a chain letter on Facebook asking friends to list a number of facts about themselves that most people don’t know.  I received a request earlier today from my yoga friend Alexis for seven facts.  I responded with the following:

1.  My parents had four boys and no girls, and I had four boys and no girls, and that explains why I know so little about women.

2.  I am tone deaf and rhythm-free, and that explains why I avoid the dance floor.

3.  My hometown had only 300 people and my high school class had only nine kids, and that explains why I was able to play basketball for the mighty Wildcats and win the high school Ping-Pong championship.

4.  While in high school, I feel in love with “Gone with the Wind” and considered changing my name to Rhett Ezekiel Bayou (REB).

5.  While in college in the early 70s, I was an anti-war socialist.

6.  I spent the winter between college and law school in El Cajon, CA working as a Pinkerton night watchman, during which I wrote a steamy 90-page screenplay that was summarily rejected by two movie producers;

7.  I hate to travel, but love spending time in Manhattan (and the outer boroughs).

October 28, 2013

Visiting northwest North Dakota

Filed under: Entertainment — Mike Kueber @ 12:17 am
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A friend of mine from the Philippines is visiting northwest North Dakota with her new boyfriend, and she asked me for suggestions on things to do.  Although I grew up in northeast North Dakota and have been GTT (“gone to Texas”) for almost 30 years, I agreed to give it a try.

The couple are driving to Minot on Highway 83 from Canada.  The highway goes directly past Minot Air Force Base (with bombers and missiles) a few miles north of town, and that might have been interesting to tour, but according to a base website, tours have been severely limited due to fiscal challenges and the infamous sequestration.

Day One – The city of Minot is unquestionably the crown jewel of northwest North Dakota and deserves as day of recreation.  With more than 40,000 people, it far exceeds all surrounding cities in population and thereby is the retail center for the area.  My friend likes to shop, so she will probably enjoy a few hours at the Dakota Square Mall, which is on the south edge of town, at the intersection of the city’s two major highways – north/south Highway 83 and east/west Highway 2.

The most beautiful feature of Minot is the Souris River, which flows through the middle of town.  Since I left town, the city apparently developed a 2½ mile walk/bikeway along the river and that seems like a perfect activity in fall weather.  There is also a Roosevelt Park and Zoo that deserves a look, plus a couple of museums – Taube Museum of Art and Dakota Territory Air Museum.

For Days Two and Three, I suggest a driving tour of the ranch & oil country west of Minot.  Day Two would consist of a 1½ hour drive to the Four Bears Casino & Lodge (via Highway 83 south of town and then Highway 23 west into an Indian Reservation).  The Lodge, which has received spotty on-line ratings, is on the mighty Missouri River about four miles east of New Town, and the scenery is as good as it gets for North Dakota.  New Town was founded in 1953 to replace the cities of Sanish and Van Hook, which were inundated by the creation of Lake Sakakawea by damming the Missouri River.

Day Three would consist of continuing to drive west of New Town to Watford City and then Williston, before circling back on Highway 2 to Tioga. These three cities are in the heart of the Bakken Shale oil explosion, and I can only imagine how much they have changed since I was adjusting insurance claims in those towns in the 80s.  (Bakken is the name of a Tioga farmer on whose land the shale was discovered.)  Tioga and Watford City have only a couple of thousand people, while Williston has almost 20,000, so budget your time appropriately.  Then, back home.

I used to drive the entire Minot, New Town, Watford City, Williston, and Tioga route every Tuesday while working for State Farm Auto Insurance, so you should be able to adjust this itinerary to match the time you have available.  Maybe you want to start by driving directly to Four Bears and then stopping in Minot on the way back.  That probably makes more sense.

Hope you have fun and I look forward to learning about your experiences.

November 30, 2012

On the ninth day, the Spurs rest

Filed under: Entertainment,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 2:29 pm
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Last night, San Antonio Spur head coach Gregg “Pop” Popovich created controversy by holding out his three star players (Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker) in a nationally televised game against the Miami Heat.  NBA President David Stern responded by declaring that the fans deserve better and, therefore, sanctions against the Spurs would be forthcoming. 

The problem with Stern’s threat is that the Spurs have rested their star players before, and as pointed out by local columnist Buck Harvey, the only significant difference is that this game was on national TV.   

The situation reminds me of pre-season NFL games.  Those games are irrelevant, and the fans accept (albeit reluctantly) that the teams are mostly going through the motions.  That is essentially what Popovich decided – i.e., his team has a better chance to win the league title with one less regular-season win and one more night of rest for his stars. 

Yes, the Popovich move reflects a lack of respect for the regular season games, and yes, the fans at some of those games are shortchanged.  And although the NBA is in the business of entertainment, David Stern needs to remember that what sets sports apart is that a team’s complete focus is on winning the championship, not on putting on a good show, and there is no compelling reason for him to risk messing with that fundamental.

October 28, 2012

LampPost Bed & Breakfast and dancing

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment,Relationships,Religion — Mike Kueber @ 9:01 pm
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While visiting my son in Steubenville, OH, I stayed at the LampPost Bed & Breakfast.  Although bed & breakfast places have become ubiquitous during the last 20 or 30 years, this was my first experience with the concept.  Why would I stay in a person’s home when I could save money and stay in an economical motel?

As with many things in my life, economics is a controlling factor, so it is not surprising that is what led me to LampPost.  My son had warned me that finding a motel room in Steubenville was difficult, so shortly before arriving at his campus, I stopped in a convenient motel and was surprised to learn it charged $150 a night.  That was too pricey, I said, and the proprietor told me that there were only two other motels in town, and they were a bit cheaper, but not nearly as nice.

With that bittersweet news (rooms were available, but more expensive than I wanted to pay), I proceeded to Jimmy’s rugby practice.  Then, while visiting with one of Jimmy’s injured teammates, I mentioned the high price of the motel, and he said his mom, when visiting for Parent’s Weekend, had stayed at a nice bed & breakfast for only $50 a night.  Even better, he still had its phone number.  A few minutes later, I was all set at $50.

The LampPost proprietors are quite a couple.  Joe and Peggy are both 74-years old, and have been married for six years (after meeting on-line), with both of their previous spouses being victims to cancer.  It’s hard to believe that Joe is 74, unless you visualize Kirk Douglas at that age, while Peggy seems the traditional housewife.  The Romney signs in their front yard portended their staunch conservatism, and that was confirmed by the LampPost prohibition of alcohol.  With the presidential election only a bit more than a week away, that was often the subject of our conversations, and they are worried to death that President Obama will be re-elected and that America will go over the fiscal cliff to resemble either Greece or General Motors. 

But America’s decline is not stopping them from enjoying their golden years.  Joe is a natural dancer, and he has taught Peggy to be a competent partner.  Joe joked about hopeless dancers who lacked rhythm so completely that they couldn’t even clap to a song’s beat, let alone dance to it, and he laughed when I told him that that was me.  Although this sort of realization might be discouraging to some, it has actually comforted me because now I accept my dismal dancing, not as a lack of trying, but as a non-gift, akin to my non-creativity.  I have been blessed with some gifts, but rhythm and creativity are not among them.  As the Serenity Prayer suggests, accept the things you cannot change. 

Joe and Peggy attend church twice a week – his Saturday Mass and her Sunday Protestant service.  Peggy suggested to me that the Saturday Mass was not as satisfying to them because it was so structured with rote communication and a short sermon, while the Sunday service was full of preaching and post-service fellowship. 

As I was listening to Peggy, her description of Mass/services seemed to be analogous to the difference between a motel and a bed & breakfast.  At a motel, everything is structured and you are unlikely to make a human connection.  By contrast, at a bed & breakfast, you will not only make a human connection, but you will also learn an immense amount of information about the community.

Bed & breakfast – what a great concept!

September 28, 2012

Report on my week in NYC

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment — Mike Kueber @ 12:55 pm

My recent sojourn to NYC was my longest – seven nights.  How did I decide on seven nights?  I left San Antonio on Wednesday, the 19th day of September, because Southwest Airlines has its cheapest departures from San Antonio on that day.  I wanted to stay at least through the weekend, and then I learned that Southwest Airlines had its cheapest LaGuardia departures on Wednesday, the 26th day of September.  Case closed.  

In searching the internet for my residence of choice – hostels – I learned that one of the largest hostels in NYC has private rooms for only $80 (taxes included).  Although this is twice as expensive as typical dormitory-style rooms in hostels, I decided to splurge because I wanted the luxury of some privacy – day or night.  Plus, the stock market’s been surging, so I felt richer. 

The Chelsea International hostel is located near 8th Avenue and 20th Street (Chelsea neighborhood).  It is reasonably close to the subway – the A, C, and E train can be caught at 8th and 23rd Street.  In addition to being reasonably clean, it has upscale international residents (passport required) and provides a free continental breakfast along with an indoor/outdoor common area with WiFi but no TV. 

In addition to arranging my flight and accommodations, the other three items of trip infrastructure were the purchase of a seven-day subway pass ($27), a seven-day membership in a local gym ($75 – David Barton Gym at Astoria), and a seven-day New York Pass ($180).

Each of these seven-day passes is an outstanding bargain in its own way.  I am continually on the move, yet my total cost of transportation was a mere $27, much less than $1 a trip.  I go to the up-scale gym at least once a day for yoga and some light weights.  That amounts to less than $10 a session and has the fringe benefit of exposing me to a genuine, non-touristy NYC experience. 

Last, but not least, is my New York Pass, which entitles me to see 70 NYC attractions.  Because a person can’t come close to doing 70 attractions in a week, especially when I blocked out time for two Yankees’ games, daily yoga, Chinatown, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Coney Island, I picked only 20 attractions:

  1. The Beast – a 45-mph speed boat that does some hot-rodding in the Harbor (by selecting The Beast, I had to pass on the 3-hour slow cruise around Manhattan)
  2. Intrepid – battleship and museum
  3. Blazing Saddles – a 24-hour bike rental
  4. Central Park bike rental –three-hour bike rental
  5. Bike and Roll – four-hour bike rental
  6. New York Water Taxi – a harbor cruise to multiple locations that allows you to get off and on.
  7. CitySightseeing Cruise – 90-minute cruise into the Harbor
  8. Manhattan by Sail 
  9. Clipper City Tall Ship Cruises
  10. Ripley’s Believe It or Not (surprisingly lame)
  11. Madame Tussaud’s (surprisingly enjoyable, especially because it is next door to the boring Ripley’s exhibit)
  12. Yankee Stadium tour (not much to see and out-of-the-way, but good quality)
  13. NBC Tour
  14. Top of the Rock (my first time)
  15. Empire State Building (been here before; nostalgic)
  16. New York Skyride (got me a bit nauseous; too early in the morning, perhaps)
  17. Museum of Modern Art (gotta love MoMA)
  18. Metropolitan Museum of Art
  19. Whitney Museum of American Art
  20. Guggenheim Museum

Ultimately, I found time to see all of the attractions except two – the CitySightseeing Cruise and the Whitney Museum. 

In addition to the New York Pass, the greatest surprise from this trip was to learn how bicycle-friendly NYC has become.  On my first bike rental, I went from Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan to the George Washington Bridge on the northern end – about 20 miles along the Hudson River with virtually no interference with vehicular traffic.  During that ride, I also made a side-trip to my gym near NYU and was amazed at how easily I was able to cover the mile.  Bike lanes were easy to find, and cross-town traffic has few intersections.  What seemed like a long-haul on foot is an easy jaunt on bike.

Action-oriented vacations are totally dependent on your health, and I would be remiss if I failed to mention that my artificial knee was wonderful.  Despite my repeated use of the subway, there is an unbelievable amount of walking getting to the subway.  Halfway through the week, I suddenly realized that I was walking unbelievable distances, and the only side-effect was some sore feet.  I hadn’t noticed my new knee because it was working perfectly.  Although my feet were sore, I was able to ameliorate that by shifting from boat shoes to tennis shoes to flip-flops.  I don’t care if only two other males in NYC are wearing flips; my feet need to breathe from time to time. 

In hindsight, I’m happy with the way the week played out.  Next time, I will probably add a Broadway show if I am a little richer.  And if I read a bit more about art, perhaps I will be able to get more enjoyment from the City’s museums.





August 25, 2012

Role models

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment — Mike Kueber @ 3:53 am
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In a recent blog about Lance Armstrong’s decision to give up his fight against doping charges, two readers provided contrasting comments.    My San Antonio friend, Bob Bevard, expressed his disappointment in Armstrong as a role model:

  • “They are not us-in almost any way-and they set very, very bad examples for our youngsters and their fans.  I still (perhaps Pollyannaishly) believe that our public figures ought to be models for our/their public and NOT behave outrageously in public forums nor cheat.  They truly are models–whether they like it or not. As long as they make their livings from the public and public appreciation and dollars, they need to BE careful and set high standards, not act like/be cheaters, gangsters, or reprobates.”

By contrast, my brother Kelly Kueber asserted that Armstrong remained a person worthy of admiration:

  • “I admire Lance Armstrong for his drive and motivation and competitive fire! I think he is a great human being. The other stuff I do not care about, I just look at his great determination and try to emulate him in any small way I can.”

Brilliant minds think alike, so I agree with my brother Kelly.  Armstrong’s drive is what sets him apart and it is worthy of emulation. 

I disagree with Bob’s suggestion that public figures should be role models for anything other than what they excel at.  Taylor Swift is a role model for a young girl wanting to be a successful singer, Cam Newton is a role model for a young man wanting to be a sports star, and Bill Gates is a role model for anyone wanting to succeed in business.  The key to their success, other than innate ability and luck, is often their work ethic (as documented by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers). 

Significantly, their success is typically not closely connected to the values, ethics, and integrity that we want to instill in the youth of this country.  Those values are generally not essential to succeed in entertainment or business.  Steve Jobs is an example of a business success who seemed to be ethically challenged. 

Kids’ values, ethics, and integrity need to come from their parents and their community, not celebrities.

August 12, 2012

Satuday Night at the Movies #41 – American History X, The Stoning of Soraya M, An Education, Marley, and Water for Elephants

American History X is the movie I was expecting last week when I watched The History of Violence.  Although The History of Violence turned out to be a good movie, it pales in comparison to the power of American History X, a movie about a California neo-Nazi (Edward Norton) who comes out of prison a changed man and then tries to get past his past.  As with most gangster movies, getting into the gang is easier than getting out.  A major weakness in the storyline is its failure to convincingly describe (a) how Norton went bad in the first place, and then (b) why he straightened out in prison.  But the characters are compelling, especially the buff Norton (who earned an Oscar nomination), plus his mom Beverley D’Angelo and his brother Edward Furlong.  Elliott Gould as the mom’s boyfriend is also good.  The Rotten Tomato critics gave it an 82%, and the audience liked it even more at 96%.  I give it three and a half stars, with a slight deduction for Norton’s two implausible conversions.     

An Education is a 2008 British coming-of-age movie about a 16-year-old girl in 1961 London whose life is “hard and boring” because her middle-class parents are pushing her toward a better life by getting admitted to Oxford University.  Then she meets a charming, sophisticated young man who sweeps her of her feet, and suddenly her parents see Oxford at unessential.  As the girl prepares to drop out of prep school, her favorite teacher makes a strong argument for staying, but then when she visits the headmistress of her prep school, she actually hears arguments that are counter-productive, including the “hard and boring” verbiage.  She asks why someone should spend their life doing hard and boring stuff, and when the headmistress can’t answer the “why?” the girl says, “I don’t want to be impertinent, but this is an argument worth rehearsing because someone else might want to know the point of it someday.”  At that point, the girl leaves school and the trouble begins. 

The relationship between the girl and the young man reminds me of Elvis and Priscilla, not only because of their ages, but also because of the way the young man seduces both the girl and her parents.  It also reminds me of the movie Wall Street in the way the older guy seduces the young idealist into a world of shortcuts.  This outstanding movie, which is based on an autobiographical essay by Lynn Barber, received a Best Picture nomination and Carey Mulligan received a Best Actress nomination.  The Rotten Tomato critics give it an impressive 94% and its more restrained audience a 78%.  I agree with the critics and give it three and a half stars out of four.

The Stoning of Soraya M is 2008 drama based on a true-story book that describes the execution by stoning of an Iranian woman who was falsely accused of adultery because her husband wanted to marry a younger woman.  I find it amazing that bullfighting is almost extinct because of its barbarism, yet stoning still occurs in this world.  In fact, just a week ago I read about an adulterous couple being stoned to death.  In addition to the stoning, the most disgusting aspect of life in the Iranian village was the way men and women seemed to hate each other.  The men were bloodthirsty in their punishment for Soraya, and even her father and her two sons joined in the stoning.  When Mitt Romney suggests that culture plays a large role in the success of a society, I can’t help but thinking that societies as backward as this Iranian village have no chance of successfully competing in the world economy.  The current dispute in France regarding its ban on Muslim women being fully veiled is but a small example of inevitable culture clashes, but I suppose they could co-exist like the Amish do in America.  Although stoning seems barbaric beyond belief, I wonder if others might think the same thing about capital punishment in America.  But the most memorable lines in the movie, which is uttered by Soraya shortly before she was led away to her fate, reveals an important difference between America capital punishment and Iranian stoning – “I’m not afraid of death.  I’m afraid of dying.  The stones.  The pain.”  Civilized society cannot condone torture.  The Rotten Tomato critics give it a score of only 55%, but its audience is more receptive – 89%.  I give it three stars out of four based on its riveting story, although there wasn’t much suspense or drama.

Marley is a 2012 biographical documentary of reggae singer Bob Marley, who died of melanoma in 1981.  In 1977, he refused to have a cancerous toe removed because of religious considerations (or a desire to continue playing soccer).  Although raised a Catholic, his Catholicism was supplemented or replaced by the Rastafarian movement, which is a Jamaican spiritual movement that worships the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie.  Marley is my son Jimmy’s favorite singer, and Jimmy expresses admiration for Marley’s values, courage, and integrity.  I suggested that Marley was a talented, charismatic musician who grew up in a country where the 98% black majority was stymied and exploited.  Their only option was music or sports.  Rotten Tomato critics have scored Marley at 95%, and the audience likes it almost as much – 92%.  I agree – three and a half stars out of four. 

Water for Elephants is 2011 melodrama about a young man (Robert Pattinson), who is about to become a veterinarian before the Great Depression gets in the way, causing him to join a floundering circus as its unofficial vet and later falling in love with the ringmaster’s wife (Reese Witherspoon).  The movie actually starts in modern times with a 93-year-old man from a nursing home getting lost at the circus and then telling his story to the circus business manager – a la Titanic.  In the early part of the movie, the ringmaster (Christopher Waltz, who looks like Mitt Romney) comes across as a Romney-esque capitalist who is vital to the circus’s survival, but later he turns into a psycho.  The Rotten Tomato critics give it a score of 61%; its audience liked it a bit better at 71%.  I give it only two stars out of four because the story is predictable and Pattinson is not especially likeable.       


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